Beware the Double-Whammy

(Or: The Hidden Costs of Powering Through)

A friend of mine was bemoaning a difficult client.

And the idea of not working with them anymore came up, but as a non-option. Mentioned as wishful thinking but dismissed as something that would ruin her reputation. And would put her squarely in the “unprofessional” category.

I don’t agree.

If the project is draining you, sticking with it because you feel like you have to for whatever reason is a double-whammy.

Whammy #1

Time spent on the project from hell is, well, hellish.

We all have a limited capacity for any given project. That’s just the way life is. We need to take time to sleep and eat and bathe and keep the health inspectors from condemning our kitchens and bathrooms. Ahem.

And we have family obligations and other clients and other projects on our plates.

Oh, and *gasp* we might even have a hobby.

If you’re self-employed, chances are you made that choice so you’d have more control over your work. With the goal of, you know, enjoying more of it.

The upshot: The time you give to a miserable project is time you can’t give to a project you enjoy.

Whammy #2

Work that makes us miserable comes with an additional bit of fun: Recovery Time.

If you’re dealing with a difficult client, or fighting with technology, or there’s generally no flow in your work, it’s draining. You might even spend the time working on that project in acute stress.

When I was at the day job, every email in my inbox got my adrenaline pumping because it meant fixing a problem I didn’t want to fix. And then I’d go home and be a zombie all evening because I’d spent 8+ hours in fight-or-flight mode.

Those evenings I spent zoned out in front of the TV? I certainly wasn’t working on my business. Unless my business was couch-based ass-print development.

The upshot: Time spent recovering from a miserable project is also time you can’t spend on work you enjoy.

So what’s the solution?

I know it’s not as simple as telling you, “If you’re miserable, then bail.”

However, if the only thing stopping you from getting a miserable project off your plate is an uncomfortable conversation and possibly refunding some money?

I say, do it. Get it off your plate so you have the energy to replace it with a project that thrills you.

But, but, but!

Yes, it’s hard. It’s especially hard if it puts you in a cash-flow bind, or involves ending a client relationship.

But here’s another but: When we’re doing work that makes us miserable, we’re not doing our best work.

If you feel like you can’t quit because you’d be leaving someone hanging, I would argue you’d be doing them a favor. Sure, there might be an inconvenience factor for them, but you’re giving them the chance to work with someone who’s a better fit.

At the very least, you owe it to yourself to have a good think about why you feel like you can’t stop working on the thing that is draining your best creative energy.

Here’s what I would ask myself (and you, if we were working together):

Why can’t I stop working on the project (or with the client)? What would happen?

Who says my reputation will be ruined? Is that really true?

What will continuing with this project cost me (not just in terms of money)?

Looking back, what can I learn about this type of project or client? Were there any signs that told me to say no? Why did I say yes?

What did I think I would get out of saying yes, and what did I actually get?

What can I do so that, going forward, it’s easier to recognize and say no to the projects that aren’t right for me before I start working on them?

It’s all learning

Maybe you’re in a sticky project situation and you’d like to get out of it. And at the same time, maybe you feel like you just can’t take the necessary steps to make that happen. It’s too scary. Or the stakes feel too high.

It’s okay. Really.

This isn’t about increasing your stress by turning your work upside down. It’s about noticing and learning what works for you and what doesn’t. And using what you notice to create an amazing work-life (and life-life, for that matter).

Because now you’ll look at your not-so-enjoyable project differently. You’ll begin to see where and why it went wrong, and you’ll apply that information to choosing your next project.

That’s the cycle of learning: Make a choice. Notice how it plays out. Take notes on what you learned. Apply said learning to future choices.

How would it feel to be rid of That Project? What could you do with the extra time and energy you’d have?

8 thoughts on “Beware the Double-Whammy

  1. Wulfie

    Good post, Victoria. I just went through…or am going through it myself with what I thought was my ‘thing’. What made me stay with it for as many years as I did was the time, investment, energy, effort, and money that I’d put into trying to force it to become something it wasn’t. It’s hard to let go of something after years of it….it’s more like a divorce at that point. lol But I did get a divorce and now I’m in that stage where I feel better, mentally and physically and even emotionally, but this quietness is so new that I sort of feel like I’ve been hollowed out. Every once in a while I wonder if I made a mistake. (AGAIN) Or if I even have a real thing (as far as something I could do as a business). I’m riding it. sure is quiet though!

    Thanks for the insight!

  2. Square-Peg Karen

    And the client thing, like you said – you’d be doing THEM a favor. Always a great idea to have a list of references so that you can suggest a couple other helping professionals to a client when things aren’t meshing so well – or when they’ve hit a stuck spot in their work with you.

    Again you’ve got wisdom AND humor – loved this: “Unless my business was couch-based ass-print development.” lol
    .-= Square-Peg Karen´s last blog ..Catching Up =-.

  3. Mari

    This is so true! It is not just the time that you actually work on it but also all the space that it takes outside the official working hours. When I quitted my job the biggest gain was not the hours I spent there during the day but getting back the hours in the evenings and the weekends that I had used for recovering.
    .-= Mari´s last blog ..Piecing it together and why I love it =-.

  4. Victoria Post author

    @elizabeth – Yes! Books, hobbies, you name it. Anything that’s draining you more than nourishing you is up for consideration! :)

    @Wulfie – “It’s hard to let go of something after years of it…” Oh my gosh yes. We get invested in things (and Things) and it’s hard to let them go. Enjoy the quiet. It will shift soon. Big hugs for all that difficult transition!

    @Karen – Excellent advice, Karen. I think it’s so important to remember that, in client situations, sometimes things just don’t click. Or the client thought they were ready but they weren’t. Either way, it’s not a reflection on us. All we can do is wish them well and offer some other good people who might be a better fit.

    @Mari – It really makes such a huge difference, doesn’t it? For myself, a lot of the time I don’t realize I’m needing recovery time until I don’t need it…and then I’m like, “Where did all this time and energy come from?!”

  5. Kelly

    This is pure, concentrated wisdom. Sometimes I feel like some kind of abused girlfriend who keeps going out with guys who have red flags, even though she knows there’s a chance the red flags will turn out to be major issues. It’s so not like that at all, though, because it’s not THEM, it’s ME. Really. Someone else would be just fine doing these projects. I am not just fine. It’s not how I want to live. No subcontracting! No accounting departments! NO MORE! Some people want to live like that. Or are willing to put up with it. And the more experience I get, the less adaptable I am willing to be. I do not want to work with anyone who isn’t willing to pack out their own trash off the mountain, who expects me to carry everything for them. The hotel types who are out in Yosemite and want to stay in a hotel and get room service. That was my insight today. It’s not about whether I’m not good enough for them. It’s about them thinking they’re better than everyone else, which keeps them from really benefiting from anything I want to do with them.

  6. Giulietta Nardone

    Hi Victoria,

    Really helpful way to look at the difficult client situation. You’re right that we’ve taken having a “good reputation” to extremes. Maybe we need to re-examine that notion. Where did it come from? Is it worth it if you get sick?

    Sometimes, it’s easiest to call up the client in the event this happens and talk to them about it. They might want to bail too!

    Great read … Giulietta
    .-= Giulietta Nardone´s last blog ..Have you worn other people’s faces =-.

  7. Yael Grauer

    Good stuff! I think the hard part about turning down work or bailing on projects is that you have to take that leap of faith that new projects will be there if/when you do. But I’ve found that this is MUCH more likely than waiting for another project before telling the annoying/draining/whatever client no.
    .-= Yael Grauer´s last blog ..My Vibram FiveFingers =-.

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